so it was Christmas, friends edition

IMG_7607 For four (five?) years now, we've gathered with some friends and neighbors to celebrate the season and check out each other's holiday decorations. It's a night I look forward to every year. When I looked back at this post last year, I realized that we couldn't host our normal appetizer course because our kitchen was in such a midden. I'll have to show you how it all turned out sometime.

IMG_7605 We switched it up again this year, and I made dessert. My heart is full when I think of these friends, so I think I'll let the photos do the talking. Living here is one of the very best parts of my year. Every year.










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presents or expecting presents?

IMG_9066 I couldn't take it anymore. I had to put some decorations up. My mom was here for a week and she cleaned and swept...we're getting a handle on the plaster dust. At least some of the house feels like Christmas. I'll probably leave the wreath over the mantle and garland up until Twelfth Night, even if we take down the tree. The house is changing daily, and some of my decorations don't fit in as well as they used to. I'll have to spend some time thinking about that. And maybe hit Pier One after Christmas to see what's on sale.

We have a stack of Christmas books, didn't get those out either. One of my favorites is called Kipper's Christmas Eve.  Kipper was a childhood companion of Callum's and I miss the days of watching Kipper videos together. In this book, Kipper asks, "Which is best, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve? Presents or expecting presents?" For me, it's always expecting presents. For Callum, it's always been Christmas Day: presents. And really, find me a kid who wouldn't agree. Until this year. This year, he says, expecting presents. This year, he's learned the appeal of expectation and anticipation. It's a nice shift. He might be growing up.

I hope you're enjoying the anticipation with you and yours.

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is it over already?

IMG_1329 Well, Alfie's gone and holiday time is waning.  I can't believe it's over already... we very much felt the shortened season this year.  Here, in pictures, is a brief review.




From the spiced pineapple hot buttered rum to the chocolate fountain (and especially the chocolate fountain!), our neighborhood progressive dinner is my new favorite holiday tradition.


IMG_1402  We opened presents and made a mess.


IMG_0317 Christmas dinner was pork tenderloin and champagne, of course.



IMG_0366 We had a few cocktails and Callum climbed the walls.



IMG_0422 A lovely dinner out, complete with Callum cooking us Kobe beef.


IMG_0321 We're overwhelmed and tuckered out, but our holiday season was joyous and bright.

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see Neel? we can keep the fire going all day...

Well, Ama has come and gone.  We chained her to the kitchen, and the results were quite impressive.

Miles of rich roll and thumbprint cookies.

We had so much fun together.  Ama and I were chaperones for Callum's class trip to the Nutcracker.  The last time I'd been to the Nutcracker was when Ama chaperoned my class trip.  She was here for the school holiday program (and let me just say, much improved over last year.  really.) and general Christmas-y stuff.  The cookies were key.

So we had a mini Christmas last night (two! Christmases!).  And opened some presents.

The girls helped.

Violet really helped.

Callum's favorite gift from Ama was a robe.  He's been wanting one for ages, even before Harry Potter and dress robes and class robes and Quiddich robes.  He loved his robe.  Wore it all eveing (stripping down into jammies right in the living room), slept under it and only took it off when the neighborhood boys wanted to go out and play.

Some Tintin of his own rounded out the night.  Not too shabby.  It's cold, cold here today.  So Neel started a fire for us, with clear and grave concerns about our ability to tend it.  My mom has this ginormous fireplace in her house, and she has a fair hand with a fire.  I'll have to get her method sometime.  But I'm not doing too badly here.

And now what's left is the clean up and gearing up for Alfie.  He comes tomorrow and there is laundry to be done, beds to be made, surfaces to be to be wrapped!  And all I want to do is knit or research lavish and expensive knitting projects.  I love winter break.

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what we did

Well, I took a little bit of a break there didn't I?  That was unexpected.  I kinda thought I'd blog a lot while we were home from work and school, but no go, huh?  I never dreamed that I'd ever work at a school (now that's a whole other post), but I love the build up to the holiday break.  The concerts, the parties, the wee gifties in my mailbox.  A school is a vibrant place to be when the kids are about to go on vacation.  The teachers and staff get a little excited too.  As exciting as it was, boy we all needed a break.  And we took one too.  Here's a brief recap.

It all started when my dad got here for Christmas.  We went to dinner a lot.  We went to the mall a lot.  We went to the grocery store a lot.  We ate a lot and drank a lot.  I think there were cookies too.  Thank God my mom sent them or we wouldn't have had them otherwise.  I kept trying to figure how we had Christmas cookies every year when both my parents worked full time.  I just can't get it all pulled together.  And then I realized that my grandmas always stepped in and made us cookies.  Well, Ama (Callum's grandma) stepped in and made us cookies.  Ama to the rescue.  You've heard all about our SOBO progressive dinner, boy that was fun.  But there were other parties too.  There were oyster roasts (I ate oysters!), and a lovely Christmas Eve Eve party where someone asked my dad if he'd ever considered retirement communities (If you've ever met my dad, you'd know how funny that is.  And if you've ever met me, you'll be able to guess how quickly we turned "retirement community" into "assisted living." Sorry Dad.  You know we're not thinking along those lines yet.)  Nice evening.  We ate chili and drank beer and sat under a tent in the dark back yard as the rain dripped down.  It was good to just sit and let Christmas slip up on us.

Assisted Living, Violet-Style.

On Christmas Eve morning our fridge died.  Right after we did all of the grocery shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas Dinner.  That was fun.  Neel moved all of our frozen stuff to a freezer in the lab... and I promise that's not as scary as it sounds.  We made do with two mini fridges and a cooler on the back porch for the almost two weeks it took to get the damn thing fixed. 

Christmas Eve evening was great, sausages and seven-layer salad.  Oh how I love seven-layer salad.  It was the kind of the kind of salad I never had except at a potluck.  And you knew it was a good potluck if someone brought seven-layer salad.  And then one Christmas, when Neel and I were living in Pennsylvania, after my Grandad had his stroke, we were all gathered at my Grandparent's house for Christmas.  On Christmas Eve a friend of my grandparents came by and brought us a seven-layer salad.  I can still picture him, and I have no idea who it was, silhouetted by bright sunshine in the arched door of my grandparent's home.  It was a generous gift, really thoughtful at that time of year when you're busy doing cooking and baking for your own family.  He didn't linger.  He handed it off and ran, and ever since I have had this image of some friend of my Grandma Charlotte's making that salad and then sending her husband out to deliver it.  And that day was the first time it occurred to me that I could actually make seven-layer salad.  Okay, so I'm a little slow, but I've been making it ever since.  What a lot to say about seven-layer salad.  I'm glad we had it on Christmas Eve.  And then Santa dialed up an early Christmas present when the San Diego Chargers won their game against the Broncos, but that meant we stayed up late and totally forgot to leave him milk and cookies.  I'm hoping that by bribing him with Scotch next year, he'll forgive us.

Par for the course, Callum slept in on Christmas morning, but that meant I could get up and make bread pudding for Christmas breakfast.  We ate that while we opened presents.  There were a lot of presents...  it took hours.  We talked to friends and family and settled in for the day.  We stacked our presents under the tree and looked at new books and kept the fire burning.  I always knit something for myself on Christmas so I worked on a scarf while Neel, Callum and my dad put together roller coasters and played video games.  We had Beef Wellington for dinner and chestnut soup and lots of Champagne.

Violet and Thea study this Christmas present business.

After Christmas things become a blur.  We went to the mall to spend gift cards (just trying to do our part to keep the US economy plugging along), and went out to a last dinner with my dad before taking him to the airport.  Pretty sharpish after Christmas I took down the tree.  As much as I love putting the Christmas stuff up, oh, I love taking it back down.  It felt so good that I rearranged our living room and tv room and have all sorts of plans for remodels we can't afford.  We had a lovely brunch with some good friends on a gray and rainy Sunday.  A fire in the fireplace, she crab soup, ham biscuits, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, egg and cheese casserole.  Man, I love brunch.  I wish we did it more.  We should do it more.  It was just the best way to while away a dreary afternoon.

Oh the things we did over this lovely long break.  We played games, both video and board.  We watched football, both college and pro.  The dogs escaped at least three times.  Once on Christmas morning.  My personal favorite was when it happened right after Neel came in and announced, "They're not getting out now."  I finished my scarf and promptly sprained my wrist, so that was the end of knitting for awhile.  I had a New Year's Eve lunch with some girlfriends where we struggled to come up with some decent resolutions.  We split our New Year's Eve with friends and family.  We sipped Patrone from the bottle and ate salmon fresh from Alaska.  We drank (more) Champagne and we watched movies and played with a Wii.  (Some of us are still yearning for said Wii.)  We stayed up till midnight (no small feat for this family!) and shot off bottle rockets.  Welcome, 2008.

Oh the things we did this long and lovely break.  It's no wonder we all look like this (the girls got matching collars and leashes in their stocking).  We're coasting into the weekend with more football, more games and more relaxing.  It's been a great finish to 2007 and a great start to 2008.  I've been doing a lot of thinking about things.  Those of you who know me or who have been hanging out in the Blue Rain Room a while now know me well enough to know I'll be talking about all of those things soon enough.

Welcome, 2008.

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We started the day with a conked-out fridge (great timing, huh?), and are finishing it with a frenzy of wrapping.   In between was a requisite trip to the mall and some present delivery.   Christmas Eve is such a funny mix of frantic and final.  You hit a point where there is nothing left to do...or at least nothing else you can do.

Traditionally, we'll have sausages for dinner tonight.  This dates back to Christmases spent with a German friend of ours and it stuck.  And then we'll settle in.  It's funny.  When I did that Christmas meme, it made me think about how differently Neel and I have framed Christmas for our family than how I spent Christmas growing up.  My dad and I talked about it a little this week.  For him, it was some about the presents, but a lot about the fighting going on around him too.  For me there was none of that.  My grandparents were there.  Black bean soup for dinner with Moyers potato chips.  When I was very small we went to Christmas Eve services, but as I grew older we stopped doing that.  We opened our presents on Christmas Eve (here's hoping Callum doesn't read this!) and Santa came on Christmas morning.  It was all about the presents the food and the love.  I thought we did it perfectly and loved every minute of it.

We do it very differently now, and I still think it's pretty perfect.  A big part of me misses having a place to go for Christmas Eve services, but we haven't found our home for that yet.  So tonight we'll eat some sausages and watch some San Diego Chargers football. We'll open our presents on Christmas morning, with Bloody Marys and bread pudding, and finish the day with Beef Wellington and a lot of champagne.

What a month it's been.  I didn't do a lot of crafting or baking or any of the other things I used to do when I was home with my boy and didn't have a job to go to everyday, but man, we had a lot of fun.  School's out now, so we'll see what the next few weeks bring.  I feel like my family is wrapped around me right now, in the best of ways.  Merry, merry Christmas.  My heart is full.

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solstice in SOBO

We had our Second Annual SOBO Progressive Dinner last night.  Last year, two of us (not me!) were pregnant and we had so. much. food.  Let me tell you about all the food we had last year.  I think every person thought they were they only household having a party.  We started with appetizers at my house, and soup and salad at Rebecca's and then HAM...WITH SIDE DISHES at Jean and Paul's and then dessert at Tyler and Catherine's.  It was a bit much.

Who needs food when you can have all appetizers?  We started at our house again.  Callum insisted.  Two different drinks.  Pomegranate Martinis and our own family concoction, the Tidewater Tini (recipes follow the post).  Fried Greek Cheese, some olives, and a Brie en Croute with figs and walnuts.

I teased Neel that he kept refilling our glasses like a waitress at Shoney's with the iced tea pitcher.  He pointed out that no one was saying, "No thanks, I'm good." 

I am not too embarrassed to say that I was too busy eating Hot Wing Dip at Jean and Paul's take pictures of it, but their tree is beautiful, as is their newly painted dining room.  Callum sang for us and played with the kids, but all the pictures of that were too personal to share in this forum.

On to Rebecca's where we insisted she make us her She Crab soup again this year and she surprised us with ham biscuits, oh joy! 

It's a pretty amazing soup that starts with sherry in the bottom of the mug and finishes with Worchestershire and Old Bay, and drinking it out of a mug was divine.  I've already put in a request for lunch left-overs, but she seems to be avoiding me...

Top it off with a champagne cordial, and we head to Tyler and Catherine's for dessert.

Oh God, I love Catherine's Strawberry Trifle.  The thing that was so fun about this evening is that everybody made the thing that we love them to make.  For us it was the fried Greek cheese.  For Jean and Paul the Hot Wing Dip.  Rebecca's She Crab Coup and finally Catherine's Trifle.  (Catherine put her foot down at Dorito Salad, so we let her handle dessert.)  I'm sure for those of us doing the cooking, it's a little like Jimmy Buffet singing Margaritaville, but what a gift to know people so well that they have favorite recipes and they'll make them for you.  Maybe next year we'll branch out, but this was very nice indeed.

Her surprise treat was this Champagne drinkie, complete with pineapple sherbet.  Oh, deliciousness!  I'm already thinking New Year's...

It was a wonderful night, made more special by the fact that my dad had arrived in time to join in the fun.  Merry, merry Christmas my neighbor family.  You've brought so much light to my life, and being with you lit the darkest night of the year.

There are about a gillion pomegranate martini recipes gracing the internet these days (Thanks Al Gore!), but the Tidewater Tini is our very own.  We tend to just glug in the vodka and other ingredients to taste, but I will endeavor to make some sense of it here for you.  Enjoy!

1 oz vanilla vodka
2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz triple sec. 
mix with ice in a martini shaker and strain into a glass...garnish with a lemon peel or maraschino cherry.

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still ahead

Okay, he's still winning in the present department, little twerp.  All three under the tree from Callum.

But check this out...

Boxes piled as high as the sky.  Once I get started, I'm going to catch up fast.  Oh, wait, look again!

We've added a boy and a dog.  Should I wrap them up too?  I'm going to close with bits and pieces of a Christmas meme that I got in an e-mail today.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
For under the tree, wrapping paper, for gifts exchanged outside of my house, both
2. Real tree or artificial tree?
Real, although if I get that box of ornaments that my dad has, I'm going looking for a retro-inspired white or silver tree for those.
3. When do you put up the tree/decorate?
First week of December
4. When do you take the tree/decorations down?
Depends, sometimes the day after Christmas, sometimes New Years' Day.
5. Do you like eggnog? 
In small doses.  Although I've heard a cinnamon schnapps version that sounds interesting.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? 
If I had to pick, I'd say my Emergency! play set, or my first many good Christmases, it's hard to choose.
7. Do you have a nativity scene?
No.  I'm jonesin' for a village though.
8. Hardest person to buy for?
Neel.  But then, our anniversary is in October and his birthday is in mid-January and he never wants anything.  I however, am exceedingly easy to buy for, right Neel?
9. Easiest person to buy for?
Callum and Megan who are both hard to actually stop buying for.  Seriously, I think I have both of their birthdays started already.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? 
Mail.  My own special system of mailing one out the day I receive one so it's not too overwhelming.
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
Do my in-laws read this, because there was that year they were moving and cleared out their attic...
12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
I don't have a favorite.  I've been dying to watch Elf and we watched the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol last night.
13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
I feel sure that I have.  Probably thrown some out too!
14. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Do you have all day?  Iced rich roll cookies, thumb print cookies, chestnut stuffing, seven-layer salad, Tyler and Catherine's Trash Mix, our homemade Chex Mix, German sausages on Christmas Eve... oh God, stop me.
15. Clear lights or colored on the tree? 
16. Favorite Christmas song?
It varies.  This year I'm digging Destiny's Child doing Carol of the Bells, and The Bob's with Santa's Got a Brand New Bag.  Always Dona Nobis Pachem and Silent Night.
17. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We traveled when Callum was really small.  Now we stay home.
18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas Morning
19. Most annoying thing about this time of year? 
The fights over parking places!  And I'm just gonna say it, our school's Holiday Program...I have a love/hate relationship with that one.
22. Favorite for Christmas dinner? 
This year  I think we're having Beef Wellington.  We tend to switch things up more at Christmas than Thanksgiving.
23. Angel or Star on Tree top?
24. What do you want for Christmas this year?
Sparkling Diamonds?  A Canon digital Rebel EOS camera?  Seriously, though.  I'm doing work that I love, spending time with friends that I love.  I'm enriched by my amazing family, I can only hope for more of the same in 2008.

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